Join Alex U. Case for an in-depth discussion in this video Get in the Mix: Using long delay on key lyrics, part of Foundations of Audio: Delay and Modulation.
Let's use echo to emphasize key lines and phrases in our mix. We're going to set up the DAW for a delay effect, dial in an appropriate long delay time and add some nice details. The addition of echo to a track is pretty simple to do but we'll need to keep an ear on the musicality of the effect. First I'll add a quarter note echo to an entire vocal track. You'll hear that this crowds and confuses the mix. To fix that problem I'll limit the delay echo to a few discrete key words instead. Then I'll fine tune it all by finding a more appropriate echo time.
Instead of a quarter note, a half note feels right. And the effect grows more interesting still when followed by a fading repetition a quarter note later. Echo is added to this vocal by using an aux-in feeding this delay plugin. The duration of the delay time has been aligned to the tempo of the song using the tempo sync capability built into this and most other delay plugins. I'll start with a quarter note duration. First, I'll play the mix without any delay on the vocal. And then I'll automate the bypass button engaging the delay and bringing the echo into the mix.
To my ear, no amount of fussing with level or panning makes this echo particularly helpful to our mix. Too loud and it's distracting. Too loud and it adds nothing beautiful, nothing useful to the overall sound of the song. And in between, well, there is no perfect in between. This always on vocal echo is always annoying. It's never musical. A more typical echo effect is to only emphasize key words of the vocal instead of the entire performance. I created a new audio track, and I placed in it a copy of the lead vocal track.
I then deleted everything but the words I wished to send to the echo, being careful to offer clean, quick, click free fades at the beginning and end of each word. I think the words wishing well are begging for a lonely, reverberant echo. This new keyword track feeds only the effects loop to the delay, it doesn't go to the mix. Remember, these words are still present in the original vocal track and I don't want to double these words by having them come from two tracks simultaneously. This new track feeds the delay not the mix. We don't hear the new track directly but the delay processor does.
Okay, it's getting better, the echo no longer a noise, but it's hardly adding to the mix. Now we've got to do a bit of fine tuning. Let's try adjusting the delay time. Let's compare the sounds of the phrase with that quarter note, then a half note, and then a whole note echo. The interesting emotional potential of the echo is starting to be revealed, though you owe it to yourself to spend a lot of time exploring this. I hear the quarter note echo as crowding the line and the whole note echo as a bit too late. I'm liking the half note echo, but lets do a bit more with it.
Let's let it repeat using the feedback parameter. Hm, that's too much. Feedback, which sends the output of the delay back to the input, causes any number of gently fading repetitions. While appropriate in other contexts, I don't want even a small cloud of repeats. A single repetition might be better, so we turn off the feedback and activate the second delay tap. I explored this for a while and I found I like the repeat best when it came a quarter note after the first echo, sort of haunting and lonely yet rhythmically appealing.
We can hard pan them. But I like when they're tucked in a bit. So, I'll pan them part way back toward center. Finally, add a bit of EQ to the echo that thins the spectral content to something closer to a whisper and give it some reverb and these echos slide nicely into place. Let's here it from the top. That echo was the perfect mix embellishment for a rich lyrical idea.
- Adjusting the delay time, level, and feedback parameters
- Utilizing a low-pass filter and polarity reverse
- Setting up an effects loop
- Setting the delay time by tempo or by ear
- Understanding the distinct uses of short, medium, and long delays
- Adjusting modulation rate, depth, and shape
- Adding double tracking and spreader effects
- Manipulating tone with constructive or destructive interference
- Creating a comb filter and flange effect